How to Set Failproof Goals and Resolutions

Have you ever been to a gym in early January?

It’s usually packed — the regulars are there, of course, but suddenly they’re side-by-side with dozens of newcomers. Every squat rack is taken, and every yoga class is full. Gym owners have a name for this phenomenon: the January rush. Gyms often encourage it even more by offering special membership deals starting January 1st. Why the sudden boost in members? What gives?

It’s simple: the newcomers have made New Year’s resolutions to get in shape. They’re fed up with their old way of life. They’re finally going to lose that last 10 pounds, dammit, and they’re going to do it by hitting the gym four times a week until they’re fit. This will be the year.

The other thing gym owners will tell you is that the gym will be back to normal by February, or March at the latest. It’ll be the regulars again, and maybe one or two determined new members.

The difference between the newcomers who give up on their resolutions and the regulars who stick with them is surprisingly small. A lot of it comes down to the way you view your goals. You can set smarter goals this year, and you’ll be much more likely to succeed. In this article, I’ll explore why resolutions fail, and then look at how to create lasting change in your life.

Set failproof goals

Most goals come from a great place: they’re positive and geared toward improvement. The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fall into four buckets:[1]

  • Health
  • Money
  • Self-improvement
  • Relationships

Even though most resolutions come from positive places, a recent poll found that only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually follow through.[2] Let’s unpack why so few people succeed, and talk about how you can be part of that 8 percent.

Focus on direction, not perfection

Say you want to go to the gym more. You set an ambitious goal for yourself: “I’m going to work out four times a week.”

You just equated success with going to the gym four times a week. If you only make it to the gym three times in a week, you’ve failed to keep your resolution, and you get discouraged. But three times a week is impressive, especially if you were going zero times a week before. You’ve made serious progress, but your resolution doesn’t let you to recognize it.

Here’s what happens if you change your goal from “I’m going to work out four times a week” to “I’m going to move more.”

Now, it’s okay to go to the gym three times a week. You haven’t failed; you’re simply improving at a 7/10 instead of a 10/10. If you didn’t go to the gym at all, and you walked to the grocery store, you’re improving at a 2/10.

With an intention, you can’t fail — there are just degrees of success. That mindset makes change much more sustainable.

Trade negative resolutions for positive ones

A lot of resolutions are negative — “I won’t eat cake” or “I’m going to stop procrastinating.” When you stop yourself from doing something you want to do, you feel deprived, and it’s only a matter of time before you’re back to old habits.

You’ll succeed more if you frame things positively: “I’m going to be on time more” beats “I’m going to be late less.” With the first one, you’re striving toward a goal and challenging yourself to be better, not avoiding failure and beating yourself up when you don’t meet your expectations.

My top upgrade to New Year’s resolutions

My favorite intention is simple:

“I’m going to do something every day to make myself better.”

I’ve been following this one for years. It hits that sweet spot between vague and precise. You aren’t specifying how you better yourself, or how much you better yourself, but you are challenging yourself to grow in some way every day. Each night, before bed, try reflecting on your growth. It’s a great way to end the day.

What are your goals this year? Do you have any that you’ve succeeded with? What was the key to your success? Let me know in the comments, and happy New Year!

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Dave Asprey

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